Holy Batman! It’s a Comic Book Exhibition at RIT

Famous funnies from April 1956 on display April 14-June 6

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A. Sue Weisler

“Frozen in Time! The Synchronic Comic Book Collection of Stephen Neil Cooper” will be on display from April 14 through June 6 at the Cary Graphic Arts Collection in the Wallace Center.

Let’s marvel at the comics! Blondie, Archie, Uncle $crooge, Superman, Dick Tracy, MAD, Popeye, Mighty Mouse, Batman, Lassie, Wonder Woman.

“Frozen in Time! The Synchronic Comic Book Collection of Stephen Neil Cooper” will be on display from April 14 through June 6 at the Cary Graphic Arts Collection in the Wallace Center at Rochester Institute of Technology. The public is invited to an opening reception and gallery talk with Stephen Cooper from 4 to 6 p.m. April 14.

Cooper is an RIT alumnus (’66, illustration photography) and owner of Sybille Gallery, a creative framing store in New York City. He donated The Stephen Neil Cooper Comic Book Collection—all 202 comic books that were on candy store racks and newsstands in April 1956—to the RIT Cary Graphic Arts Collection last November. The value of the series is conservatively estimated at $20,000.

A special feature of the exhibit (on loan from Cooper) will be the original artwork for Mad Magazine, issue #27—which includes the first cover representation of Alfred E. Neuman in color.

Cooper became a comic book collector because of a boyhood memory of a science-fiction story that inflamed his imagination. “The story was called Search for a Lost World and originally was published in Strange Adventures #67, April 1956,” he says.

The Manhattan-based hobbyist then began to amass simultaneous publications with the cover date April 1956 and completed the synchronized collection during a 10-year span. “At first, simply determining the titles and issue numbers needed was a monumental task,” says Cooper, “but with steady effort, comic books embodying all genres—superhero, western, romance, teen, movie and TV, adventure, war, crime, funny animals, science-fiction, humor, horror and mystery—were all hunted down and acquired.”

Cooper says he donated the collection to his alma mater to keep the comics of April 1956 intact and preserved under archival conditions for students and the public to study into the next century. “Comic books evolved from origination as discarded Sunday Funnies that were salvaged, wrapped in shiny covers, stapled and put back on the newsstands for a dime. Therefore, high-grade 1960 Golden-Age comic books are rare; when found they have a palpable, skin-tingling impact.”

According to David Pankow, curator of RIT’s Cary Graphic Arts Collection, “This exhibit offers an astonishing detailed glimpse into the world of comic books during a period when comics had established themselves as the primary visual entertainment medium in print.

“Seen all together, the color covers of the 202 comics on display will transport viewers back to a typical 1956 newsstand, where fantasy, science fiction, super heroes, westerns, romance and Felix the Cat all competed for attention.”

Frozen in Time! will also be showcased as the centerpiece for the Wallace Center’s schedule of events for the fourth annual Imagine RIT: Innovation and Creativity Festival on May 7.

Stephen Cooper will be accessible for media interviews prior to and during the exhibition opening on April 14. For more information on the comic book collection, call 585-475-2408.

NOTE: The Cary Graphic Arts Collection was originally established at RIT in 1969 as a small but choice library based on Melbert B. Cary Jr.’s personal collection of books on printing history and the graphic arts. The present-day collection includes some 40,000 volumes as well as manuscript material and historic printing artifacts. Holdings on bookbinding, papermaking, type design, calligraphy, book illustration and typographic exemplars are also part of the collection.